Dream start fails to materialise as Ireland's limitations exposed
GROUP C REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 1 CROATIA 3:IN THE bars of Poznan the Irish supporters sang their hearts out during the 36 hours or so that preceded last night’s kick-off, and the only complaint a Croat was heard to make was that they only seemed to have one song. After watching their team being beaten in this opening game of their first European Championship campaign in 24 years they found it in themselves to raise their voices again but You’ll never beat the Irish was not to be heard now. Rather the stadium resounded briefly to the Fields of Athenry before the voices of their victorious rivals took over.
It was in truth a bad night for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side and those who followed them and the Italian will have to restore belief that they have much better in them if this latest outing on a big stage isn’t to be by far the most disappointing yet.
The scale of the defeat will certainly dampen morale with a team that had come here having conceded just three goals in 14 games as they conceded as many again here in just 48 minutes.
Trapattoni, though, will have little option but to accentuate the positives. In this case they amounted to a decent equaliser by Sean St Ledger from a fine Aiden McGeady set-piece delivery 19 minutes in, huge efforts by the likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Glenn Whelan. There was also as a feisty attempt to rescue the situation at 3-1 that was powered by some extent by Keith Andrews pushing forward more and should have been rewarded with at least a penalty after which, they will feel, anything might have happened.
The difficulty was that by then they had given themselves a mountain to climb as a result of their inability to more effectively contain their opponents, especially Luka Modric who always seemed to find a yard or two of space, and then defending poorly at key moments.
Few would have cared beforehand how last ditch the Irish resistance in the last third became as long as Trapattoni’s men managed to keep their opponents at bay the way they had in other big games. Here though, there was a touch more mayhem than Moscow about things as the Croatians were gifted opportunities at the start and finish of the opening half.
Croatia’s first came after just three minutes, their second three minutes before the break and neither can have made pleasant viewing for the manager when he reviews the game afterwards.
There had been talk beforehand that the Croats would target Stephen Ward in particular and the Dubliner certainly had an uncomfortable evening. To be fair, though, he wasn’t the only one with Ireland’s defending uncertain and slightly slipshod as passes were repeatedly misjudged and disaster only narrowly averted.